I’ve had the pleasure of having many remarkable teachers across the musical disciplines I’ve studied, and as a way of honoring what I have learned I continue to teach in a variety of ways, from classroom settings to private lessons to using choir rehearsals as a vehicle for broader musical instruction. Below are some of the experiences I’ve had as an educator…
DigiPen Institute of Technology
In the Fall of 2016 I started as an adjunct lecturer at DigiPen Institute of Technology – I taught music history and conducted the vocal ensemble. DigiPen offers Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees relating to interactive computing and digital art, medical music, and sound design, but the best way to explain it is: it’s a video game college. (See the Conducting page for more of my experiences there)
The music history class I taught is a two-semester cycle that is required for students in the BAMSD program (Bachelor of Arts in Music and Sound Design). When I was an undergrad BA student at Occidental, we had a fairly typical four-semester cycle, and even that felt rushed, so it was an interesting challenge to design curriculum that moves quickly through historical periods (the fall semester covered plainchant through Beethoven) while providing enough in-depth knowledge so that students gain an understanding of how music has changed and evolved over the centuries, and what distinguishes music from one period or style to another. Although it was one of the most time-consuming jobs I’ve ever had, it was also one of the most fulfilling, and I looked forward to classes every week – especially the look on students’ faces as they start to synthesize what we’ve talked about into their own understanding of how music works…it really was tremendous.
Soon after I started as the Music Director at Epiphany Lutheran Church, I began offering free voice lessons to the members of the choir – not only as an incentive for choir members to become more involved in the music program and to take a more hands-on approach to improving the choir’s sound, but to try teaching myself and see if it was something I was capable of. Soon after that I branched out and started to find my own students: first just voice students and eventually branching out to teaching piano and cello as well. Now I see over thirty students each week – ranging from middle school students through retirees – and am constantly surprised not only by their enthusiasm and by watching what a positive effect making music can have, but by how much I learn from them each week. I have had many remarkable teachers in my life, but my best teachers have been my students!
I am often asked what books and materials I use when teaching – I’ve taught out of dozens of different piano methods and a handful of cello methods, and I’ve had many different vocal anthologies cross my path! Here is what I’ve found to be most helpful for my students:
I’ve taught from almost every piano method series currently available, and the Faber series are far and away the best, especially for the young beginner. Oftentimes I will start teaching a student who began with another teacher and with another set of books, which in the interest of continuity I will continue to use for a time before transitioning to the Faber series. Other methods have a very top-down approach to learning the piano, especially in the early stages. We forget as musicians how many individual concepts must be synthesized before a student understands all the subtleties of our notation, and many series take this for granted and don’t do a good job of introducing concepts gradually and in a way that makes sense. The Faber series (especially the recently-released 2nd edition) takes a much more bottom-up approach, introducing new ideas gradually and in such a way that the student feels maximally successful with each step. Also (and this may seem trivial) the layout and art design is modern and fun without being cluttered, distracting, and (as is so sadly the case with other series) dated. In addition to the Piano Adventures series, Faber also publishes a wonderful set of books for the pre-reader and an intelligent, non-condescending-but-still-engaging set for the adult beginner, both of which I have used with great success.
Although not as pedagogically sound as the Faber series, I use the Alfred books only in households where I teach two siblings – I believe strongly that siblings shouldn’t use the same series, especially if they are beginning lessons at the same time, because the direct competition can be a distraction. These are my strong second choice – the other popular series, Bastien, I avoid for a number of reasons.
This iOS app has been the single most helpful product in my teaching life! (with the possible exception of these – I wouldn’t have believed it, but nothing motivates a child like a gold star…) it combines the essential teaching tool of flash cards with the ease-of-use (and, let’s face it, the “cool” factor) of a mobile app. I couldn’t wish for any more customization options, and settings are easily bookmarked for quick changes for students of different skill levels. Plus it just looks gorgeous.
Although I am not trained in the Suzuki Method, I use the Suzuki books as graduated repertoire books for my cello students – besides being well-constructed and progressing well from one piece to the next, the musical integrity of the selections in the Suzuki books are beyond reproach – even the simplest songs in book one are suitable for performance at a recital. Since (unlike piano) the learning curve of a stringed instrument is high when it comes to the production of a nice, sustainable tone, it is especially encouraging for beginning students to have the sense that they’re playing real music and not just exercises or etudes.
26 Italian Art Songs
Although the Schirmer Italian Art Song book is ubiquitous to the point of redundancy, the editorial standards of music today are far better than they were when that collection was compiled – the accompaniments are overly romantic and distracting, many editorial changes were made even in the vocal lines, and there is very little to help the student learn about the context or meaning of the song (aside from the “poetic” english translations provided as a performance alternative). I therefore highly recommend this Alfred collection, which contains many of the same favorites while providing a more rigorous editorial practice, phonetic transliterations and word-by-word translations, and background information about the composers.
Hal Leonard Vocal Library
This wonderful set of repertoire, available in many sub-categories and in all voice types, is a wonderful resource for well-edited classics of any classical genre to expose students to actual concert repertoire in an achievable setting.
The Teen’s Musical Theater Collection and The Singer’s Musical Theater Anthology
On the musical theater side, these books are indispensable. The Teen’s Collection (available for both young women and young men) is a great resource for introductory experience with musical theater, and it includes a number of pieces most likely already familiar to the young singer. The Anthology volumes are a nice representative slice of pieces, especially from more recent musicals often not included in older books.